A Dream of Empire: The House of Blennerhassett
Library of Alexandria
It was the first of May, and the sun had passed the noon line in a bright sky, causing the shadow of Peter Taylor to fall east of north and infusing his substance with the delightful languor called Spring Fever. Leaning upon an idle spade, Peter watched the lazy motions of a negro slave whom he had directed to trim a level lawn ornamented with flowerbeds. The English origin of the overseer was revealed by his looks and in his speech. "Scipio, 'ave you 'oed the corn?" "No, boss, but I's jes' gwine to ten' to it right away." "Well, make 'aste. Daniel and Ransom can 'elp you, and tell Honest Moses to get the south patch ready for the watermelon seed." Scipio received his orders submissively, and, shouldering a hoe, sauntered toward the cornfield, and was soon hidden by a clump of young weeping-willows, the sunny green branches of which trailed to the darker verdure of the sward. Screened by the drooping foliage, the shirking menial cast his body on the grass to store up energy for anticipated toil. Meanwhile, the taskmaster, having issued commands to his black subordinates, felt justified in neglecting his own duties, in a dignified way, by seeking a shady retreat in which he lingered contemplating the charms of Nature and the pleasing results of his own skill as a landscape-gardener. The prevailing aspect of the surroundings was wild, though several acres of cultivated land, including a fine lawn with gravelled walks and drives, attested that much labor had been expended in reclaiming a portion of savage Nature from its primeval condition. The plantation occupied the upper end of Blennerhassett Island. Standing on a knoll, with his back to the "improved" grounds, Peter took in at a sweeping glance a reach of gleaming water which flowed between woody hills overhung by a serene sky. He saw the silver flood of the Ohio River which, coursing southward, broke against the island, dividing its broad current into two nearly equal streams. He admired the meadow slopes of Belpre, on the Ohio side, and the more dimly seen bluffs of Wood County, on the Virginia border. The tourist of to-day, standing where the gardener stood on Blennerhassett Island a hundred years ago, sees in the northern distance the iron framework of the Parkersburg bridge spanning the river, so far away as to show like a fairy web in the air. Beyond, as if issuing from the heart of the hills, the river blends with the purple mist. Having "bent the quiet of a loving eye" upon the river and its delightful valley, the Englishman turned his ruddy face toward the chief building on the island, a frame structure of odd appearance, painted in dazzling white save the window shutters, which were vivid green. The mansion consisted of a main edifice fifty feet square and two stories high, with a peculiar portico in front, projected not in straight lines, but forming a semicircle, embracing within the curvature of its outstretching arms a favored area of dooryard. The proprietor of the estate had chosen the site and designed the plan of this his residence with the double purpose of indulging a fancy for architectural novelty and of providing against disaster by lightning and earthquake. Never did it occur to him that fire and flood were the elements he had most reason to fear: each of these ruinous agents was destined, in turn, to devastate the island.